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Time to move to Spain

Medically retired at short notice our plans to move to Spain are brought forward by a few years. With little time to spare, this is our story.

Learning spanish
Thursday, November 24, 2016

One of the most important things on our "to do list" when we first came to live in Spain was to learn Spanish. We had heard many stories of thousands of British people living in Spain and making no attempt whatsoever to speak the local language. 

It was a conversation I struck up with an English man in a bar about six months ago that struck me. We had a conversation over a football match during which he told me there was  not need whatsoever to speak Spanish whilst in Spain, "because everyone speaks English". I know that this is not true, however I also know that you can get away with it should you wish to. I would like to add at this point that he also said, without a hint of irony that he came to live in Spain because there were "too many immigrants" and "nobody speaks English anymore in Britain". 

I am well aware that there are also many thousands of British people learning and speaking Spanish over here. In the relatively short time I've been here I would strongly argue that you cannot possibly appreciate living in Spain unless you at least try to speak the language. Of course there are also thousands of British people living in Spain who also speak Spanish and it was their example we wished to follow. 

This is my personal experience of trying to get to grips with a new language. I've never studied a language before so I'm entering pretty much uncharted territory for me. I am aware that the more you put in, the more you get out and that my way is perhaps not the best way of tackling Spanish, however it's my experience and it's shared as much to show people what not to do as much as what to do. 

Before we came here we downloaded a course and every evening we sat for half an hour to learn. On our planning visit before we came for real, we tried some of our new phrases in restaurants and bars and felt quite good about ourselves. Our plan was whenever we could, we would use Spanish even if the people we spoke to spoke English. So far so good! 

We carried on the course after our arrival here and added to 'Duolingo' app to our studies. These however were evidently not enough. We became very frustrated and seemed to be treading water. Our motivation dropped and before long our studies had all but stopped.  For those who have not tried Duolingo. It's a very basic language package that tests you on very basic language skills. Phrases, food & drink, animals, household items etc. 

We looked locally for a Spanish teacher in order to take regular lessons. The choice seemed to vary between one to one tuition to intense courses, neither of which suited us (or were prohibitively expensive) Eventually we replied to an advert from a Spanish man named Gabriel. He would teach both of us together and also incorporate another woman who also wanted to learn. It was an odd set up, as we were asked to attend the lessons in the apartment of one of his tenants. This was apparently the other person who wanted to learn Spanish. We met Gabriel who was a lovely elderly gentleman with a fetching trilby hat, who showed us into the apartment where we shared a table and read what appeared to be a Spanish comic for an hour. He would teach us words, really valuable ones like farmyard animals then go off at a tangent in Spanish, of which we couldn't understand a word. When we got one wrong, he would shout really loud and correct us equally loudly. Sue and I would exchange glances, revealing facial expressions varying between shock and trying not to laugh. We left the apartment vowing to give the lessons a chance before we judged them. 

Week two, and we got no answer at the apartment until Gabriel arrived. This time the apartment was empty but after rifling through a bunch of keys for ten minutes, he eventually found a key that fitted. We entered the apartment and got to work. The same type of lesson ensued and at the end, we paid him and attempted to leave... unfortunately, the key into the apartment was not the key to get us out of the apartment (I'm not quite sure how that worked, but that's what happened). Not to worry, Gabriel had the tenants number but unfortunately there was no answer. The tenant was a chef and the worst case scenario was that he would not be back until his restaurant closed (what time do Indian restaurants close?) As it was 9pm it was looking like we would have a long wait. As luck would have it, they arrived shortly afterwards and panic was over. We decided that these lessons dit not suit us and would look for an alternative teacher. 

I was in the local Dialprix and got speaking to the butcher who had come to Spain from London many years ago. We got chatting over our mutual love of football and the conversation turned to living in Spain. He spoke fluent Spanish and knew a teacher I could use. He passed on my phone number and a few days later, Kate phoned me and I commenced the lessons the following week. We follow a tried and trusted course and I attend one hours lesson per week. I know that is not enough so the plan is to study and use the language every day. That is harder than it may seem. Unless you have Spanish friends or have no other choice than to speak Spanish then most people fall into speaking English as soon as they detect your accent. There are many English people in the urbanisation we live on although it is still a minority but deferring to English happens a lot. It's therefore up to us to instigate our own rules. We try to speak Spanish wherever we can, and once you tell people you are trying to learn they seem genuinely pleased and try and help all they can. I try to start conversations with people who are serving me depending on the size of the queue. Last week I ordered my Christmas turkey and it was a struggle, however, typically an English speaking member of staff came over to help me when she saw my struggle. The local bar owner has told me on finding out I was learning, that he will no longer speak to me in any English. None of his staff speak English anyway so it's a good excuse for me to go to his bar. I supplement my study by using YouTube and I still use Duolingo as they now have what they call 'bots' who are cartoon characters of people who will have a conversation with you. I also watch some TV programmes and short films and have flash cards. I find that if I don't use words I lose them quite quickly and have to re learn them. 

It's when you need to contact the electric or water supplies, apply to go on the padron, try and access health care or anything official that you really need to speak Spanish. Again, there are ways to get by but I don't think that's integrating as I think I should be. It's easier to learn if you place yourself in a position where you have no choice but to learn. It's the hardest thing I've ever had to learn and it's very slow going at the moment, I long to understand and have conversations with non English speaking people so I am carrying on. There will be no giving up, but I believe it's worth it. 

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